Ken Lizotte

Article Summary:

Here are the steps you need to follow to find a consultant that's right for your business.

How to Find A Consultant That's Right For You

Co-written by Geoffery Day

Seems like consultants are everywhere these days. You meet them at the health club, the convenience store, weekend dinner parties, or the local Peet's or Starbucks. Surely, a relative or long lost friend is bound to be one. If you are a business owner or manager looking to hire one however, especially that "right" consultant who can solve your particular business problems, suddenly the crowd thins.

Your next-door neighbor, sister-in-law or the season executive who has just hung out his shingle may even be "good" consultants. But are any of them the consultant you actually need?

So how do you locate consultant candidates with a combination of skill, expertise, and experience that matches your true needs and wants? How can you be sure the consultant you finally hire ends up fulfilling your "conditions of satisfaction?" Conversely, how can you contribute to your consultant's success so that solutions ultimately recommended (and implemented) will genuinely advance your stated goals?

We have observed over the course of our collective years in the consulting profession six practices that typically lead to resolution of such questions. To obtain full value from consultants you hire, follow these guidelines:

1) Define your end point, that is, results you expect to see when your consultant has finished the job.
Let's say you wish to increase your sales and business development. Can you be more specific? What final numbers will make you happy? Though a good consultant will be able to help you to define this objective, get reasonably grounded beforehand so that whomever you hire doesn't also begin radically redefining your problem so as to send you both off in an entirely irrelevant direction.

2) Seek out a person who listens.
Many consultants have their own agendas ready or a bag of tricks to perform before they ever walk in your door. They have much to tell you including that they have seen all this before.

Instead, the best consultants save their "magic" answers until all pertinent data has been gathered, listening, seeking out everything pertinent about your organization and industry that will help them understand. Their goal is to work objectively on your behalf to determine appropriate actions for resolving your problems at hand.

3) Know if you need a consultant at all!
Sometimes a full-fledged consultant may not actually be what is called-for. Instead a "contractor" or new employee may better fit the bill. This will be true when you need someone not to help identify a problem or devise a solution but simply to carry out recommendations or implementation plans. Such "implementers" usually require close supervision while consultants generally do not.

Here's a rule-of-thumb for choosing a contractor or new staff employee over a consultant: When you're fuzzy about the problem itself, find a consultant but when the problem seems obvious and you know what you need to do to correct it, call in a contractor. Choose a full-time staffer for the same reasons when your identified problem is something ongoing. Example: "Quick" computer fixes like Y2K adjustments back in 1999 required specialized outside contactors. But in many companies software needs are continually shifting so that keeping a full-time, jack-of-all-trades computer technician on the premises may also make sense.

4) Credit to the "credentialed."
How do you distinguish between consultant candidates who, on paper, appear to be equally qualified to resolve your dilemmas? One way is to earmark consultants who have gone the extra mile in their professional lives under the assumption they might similarly stretch the extra mile for you.

Has the consultant under consideration earned a postgraduate degree? Is she active in a professional association or industry group? If a management consultant, has he attained his CMC ("Certified Management Consultant"), the designation awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants to those demonstrating high levels of consultant ethics, professionalism, study and experience?

Consultants commanding extra credentials deserve to be elevated to the top of your candidate list as they've shown their desire to achieve real results for themselves. That same spirit to achieve probably translates to their commitment to their clients as well.

5) Give your consultant some leeway.
You must make it easy for your new consultant to do her thing. Allow full rein for her to inquire, research, survey, poke about and roam free, generally whatever it takes for her to thoroughly understand your problem. Then be ready to brainstorm with her because she will be ready for you.

6) Don't just go on with day-to-day operations.
Once your consultant presents his final analysis, don't just thank him and pay him and go on with life as before. Too many consulting assignments end this way, with the company's executives shoving a report in a drawer and doing nothing further about it.

Instead, assemble senior staff in a conference room or offsite retreat, turn off cell phones, and begin kicking about what your consultant has had to say. Open-mindedly develop plans for implementing your consultant's final report.

Gaining full value requires that you, the insider, appreciate the gold in an outsider's (consultant's) insights and conclusions. Want to gain absolutely no value from your consultant's time with you? Scoff at a consultant's recommendations by whining, "We already tried that!" or "That would never work around here." Such negativity will stop resolution of your problem in its tracks every time.

Locating the right consulting candidate for your wants and needs can be tricky but these six guidelines can maximize your chances for success. They will help you launch an ongoing, mutually beneficial partnership with your consultant and keep it so. In this way, your most vexing business issues may be addressed satisfactorily, not just one time but repeatedly for years to come.

*Co-Author Geoffrey Day is president of The Consulting Exchange (Cambridge MA), a consultant referral service that assists companies looking for consultants. Phone: 1-800-824-4828. Website: www.cx.com.

Ken Lizotte CMC, Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO), emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, Massachusetts), transforms companies and consultants into "thought leaders" by helping them get their articles and books published, arrange speaking engagements, conduct original research projects, and gain media exposure. President of the Institute for Management Consultants/New England chapter, Ken is author of four books and a popular keynote speaker at professional conferences. Contact him at 978-371-0442 or www.thoughtleading.com.

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